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Overriding religious parties, PM orders Shabbat work on train line

Netanyahu says construction on Sabbath is tantamount to saving lives; Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed rail project also sees closure of parts of Ayalon highway

President Reuven Rivlin, left, takes a tour of the construction site for the new high-speed railway train being built between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2016. (Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin, left, takes a tour of the construction site for the new high-speed railway train being built between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2016. (Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled Friday that construction work on a train station in Tel Aviv will go ahead this Shabbat, albeit on a reduced basis, despite objections from the religious parties in the coalition. Work on the Shalom station is part of construction on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed train line.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that postponing the work was tantamount to endangering life, and that it could therefore go ahead on Shabbat. The work on the station also means the closure of sections of the Ayalon highway, the main expressway through Tel Aviv.

Construction work began at 4 p.m. Friday, Channel 10 reported.

The coalition’s two ultra-Orthodox parties, which are vehemently opposed to any labor on Shabbat, held marathon talks on the issue overnight Thursday-Friday with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of Likud.

The two parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, denied reports Friday, however, that they had threatened a coalition crisis during the talks. Associates of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads Shas, said that a “tough conversation” of this nature with Katz “never existed.”

The PMO, however, also announced the establishment of a committee to “boost coordination between the Transportation Ministry and the religious factions.”

The committee will be headed by Netanyahu’s chief of staff, and will include the director general of the Transportation Ministry, the police commissioner, and ministers from the religious faction or their representatives.

Aryeh Deri with Avigdor Liberman during a plenum session in the Knesset, July 29, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Aryeh Deri with Avigdor Liberman during a plenum session in the Knesset, July 29, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party earlier urged the prime minister to go ahead with the planned construction, despite the demands of the religious parties.

“Irrelevant considerations must not interfere with professional considerations, and cause the endangerment of human life on the roads and disruption to the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis,” the party said in a statement.

Then-economy minister Deri ordered a halt to all Shabbat construction on the line last year, in a move that Israel Railways warned would delay the project by two years.

Construction on the express railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was originally set to be completed by late 2017 or early 2018.

Army Radio said at the time that Deri’s decision was the result of a dispute between the Economy Ministry and the Transportation Ministry. The Economy Ministry maintained the railway had to obtain special labor permits from the Transportation Ministry to work on Shabbat. The Transportation Ministry, meanwhile, said that the permits fall under the sole jurisdiction of the Economy Ministry.

View of Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv in 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
View of Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv in 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Economy Ministry defended the decision, telling the Ynet news website at the time that Israel Railways was bound by law to seek special Shabbat permits and had not done so.

The railway authority said the move would effectively set back the NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) project — which began in 2001 — until 2020.

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